Authors: Kathleen McClure
SOLDIER OF FORTUNE
A Gideon Quinn Adventure
SOLDIER OF FORTUNE
Published by Kathleen McClure at Fadge Press
Text copyright © 2015 Kathleen McClure
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Here’s looking at you, Kid.
Table of Contents
Maximum Security Penitentiary
GIDEON QUINN CONSIDERED
the cards in his right hand. Since said cards were so faded he could barely see the original suits, and since what was visible tended to waver in the glare of the setting suns, they required some serious considering.
While he considered, his opponent — a Nikean the Outside world had known as Dr. Ephraim Rudd but in Morton answered to Doc, Prisoner 64326, or ‘Hey, You!’ — shot one finger out to catch the drop of perspiration sliding from his nose and brought it to his tongue.
Gideon, long since sweated dry by the day's labor, tried not to envy Doc the pittance of moisture.
The two men were perched on opposite sides of the sandstone slab which served as their table. Both were near in height, though Gideon topped Doc's six feet by an extra two inches. Both were tanned by the unrelenting suns of the Barrens and both bore touches of silver in their hair, despite the fact Gideon was at least a decade younger than Doc. Though they shared the genetic trait of blue eyes, Doc's were of a soft, lake-like hue while Gideon viewed the world through eyes as sharp and dangerous as live crystal. They both also had the look of men who lived on the prison's notorious rations, but where the doctor merely looked underfed, Gideon's spareness was of a harder, more feral nature, as if all excess had been burned away by some inner fire, one as potent as the suns which left him covetous of another man's sweat.
"I'll see your bet," Gideon said once said sweat was safely recycled, "and raise."
"Raise with what?" Doc gestured to the pot, composed of two cigarettes, one and a half rolls of toilet paper and nine salt tablets, piled haphazardly between himself and Gideon on their slab-slash-table. "Since I'm fairly sure I see all your worldly goods before me, already. Unless you're willing to put Elvis in the pot."
Hearing his name, the draco, currently stretched on the hot sandstone next to Gideon's thigh, raised one of his lids.
"Elvis is off the table." Saying this, Gideon scritched his reptilian companion between the folded wings until the half-open eye closed again. "Okay, technically he's on the table but — you know what I mean."
"Being a fairly intelligent sort, yes, I do know what you mean," Doc replied with a vague smile.
Gideon always found it something of a wonder that the doctor managed to retain a sense of humor, despite having been incarcerated a good five years longer than Gideon.
It no doubt helped that Doc didn't work the crystal fields, where the sub harmonic thrum of the volatile silicate could — and often did — drive those harvesting it to pure, frothing insanity.
No one knew when or if the madness would strike. A con might harvest crystal his entire sentence and remain untouched, while some drone, fresh off the barge, would be hearing voices and gnawing at his own arm in a week. Sensitives — those with high psionic ratings — were particularly susceptible, to the point the Corrections Board sent only the worst of the worst Talents to the Morton Barrens.
In six years, Gideon had seen two Sensitives come through Morton's gates. One disappeared into the desert a month after her arrival. The second — well, he tried hard not to think about the second.
But Doc, being possessed of a top-flight medical degree from Chandrasekhar, spent his days tending to the sick and injured (and mad) inside the prison walls, sparing him the potential loss of self so many of his patients suffered.
So yes, maybe his good temperament was a direct result of his removal from the crystal veins, but there was also a chance Doc's serenity came from accepting his incarceration, as a man guilty of murdering his wife might do.
Not that Gideon had ever asked. One didn't ask such things in Morton.
In fact, there were a lot of things one didn't ask about in lockup, along with
Did you do it?
Are you gonna eat that?
Mind picking up that soap?
The end result of this universal ban on curiosity was that, even after six years, and even though he counted Doc as a friend, Gideon knew next to nothing about the man beyond his having once been a famed neurophysiologist, currently an overqualified prison medic (this last gleaned from the many times he'd stitched Gideon up over the years) and an exceedingly sharp card player.
"But," Doc, unaware of Gideon’s musings, was nodding at the pot, "as Elvis is at least metaphorically off the table, what do you have to bet?"
Gideon glanced about. Satisfied they remained unobserved, he drew from his shirt pocket a thin sheaf of grubby, many-times thumbed over pages. "Got chapters six through nine of 'Curse of the Amazons.'" He made sure Doc got a good look at the pages before tucking them back into his pocket. "Good enough?"
"Honey from the Keepers," Doc judged. "Call."
Gideon's eyes darted up to spy not one, not two, but three corrections officers approaching. Dust puffed like smoke from all six feet as they crossed the Yard, making it appear, in the red light of the setting suns, as if the entire prison were on fire.
"Prisoner 66897," the foremost CO called out, not quite looking at Gideon — it was one of the tricks all the screws were taught — don't make eye contact with the prisoners because if you make eye contact, they might remember they're human. "You are requested in the warden's office."
Elvis, waking, hissed.
"Can't it wait?" Gideon soothed the draco with one hand and waved his cards with the other. "We're in the middle of a game, and I'm sitting on an apiary that'll net me enough TP to last out the month."
"You're sitting on a full hive, at best," Doc reproved mildly.
"Only one way to find out," Gideon grinned across the slab.
"Cut the crap, Quinn," the second CO, a long-timer named Finch, said with the weariness of familiarity. “You know what day it is. The review board is waiting."
"You didn't say it was your anniversary," Doc’s brows rose in surprise. “What are you waiting for? Go. I'll watch Elvis."
"And take a peek at my cards?"
"I wouldn't dream—"
"That's enough, Doc," the third CO cut in, not even tilting his head in the older man's direction. "And you," he grabbed Gideon by the collar, "on your feet, drone."
Because the third CO was a de-mobbed airman who'd not been on the job in Morton long enough to know any better, he was on the ground before he knew what hit him.
The first CO, on the other hand, knew
what hit him, as he moved to subdue Gideon and ran neck first into the prisoner’s rising elbow. A heartbeat later, the guard was bent backwards on the slab-slash-table, gagging while Gideon's forearm held him down.
For a moment the only things that moved were Elvis, flapping to safety atop of the Yard's enclosing wall, and one roll of toilet paper, leaving a white trail through the red-tinted dust as it made its escape.
"You'll want to back off, Quinn," Finch's shock stick hummed to life even as the sirens began to wail lockdown.
Wordlessly, Gideon released the gaping CO and dropped to his knees with his hands on his head.
"Guess that's the game,” Doc said, joining Gideon on the ground as yet more guards flowed in from the inner gates, forcing every inmate in the Yard to the ground.
"Dammit, Quinn," Finch shook his head at the prisoner, "are you
to tank your chance at parole?"
"Grow up, Finch," Gideon said flatly. "They're never going to grant me parole."
* * *
“As of this day, 9 February, 1449 After Landfall, it is the determination of this august board that Prisoner 66897, Gideon Michael Quinn, be granted parole, effective immediately.”
Gideon stared at that august board. "I have to say, I did not see that coming."
," Finch whispered the warning from Gideon’s left.
It was twenty-some minutes after the kerfuffle in the Yard and Gideon, now somewhat grubbier and bearing a few fresh bruises, stood in front of the Honorable Warden Simkins, two members of the Corrections Board and three ranking officers from the Corps. These last were a necessary addition to the proceedings for prisoners like Gideon, convicted of military crimes. But only one of the officers now present, General Kimo Satsuke, had sat on his court martial.
Not just sat, but presided over it.
To his eye, the general's appearance had remained largely unchanged over the years. Perhaps a few more lines accented the sea-green eyes, and more silver shone in the black of her hair than the day she'd slammed an Earth-mined marble sphere onto its pad in pronouncement of his sentence — a life of hard labor in the Morton Barrens.
It was the closest thing to a death sentence the United Colonies allowed.
Since Gideon had served only six of those years and was, to the best of his knowledge, still living, he found the sudden amnesty confusing, to say the least. "May I ask why?"
At his left, he sensed Finch rolling his eyes.
"Something to do with procedure on the Corps side of the process," Warden Simkins responded, sending a killing glance Satsuke's way.
Gideon turned his attention to Satsuke but found her expression as closed as Morton's gates.
"It should be enough to know your case has been reviewed and the sentence reduced to suit the discoveries," she told him.
Gideon felt his jaw tighten because it was absolutely
enough to know, as the conditions of his sentencing affected people other than himself. He was just opening his mouth to press for more detail when he caught Satsuke's stare.
The General possessed what could best be described as a very speaking gaze. What her gaze was saying now was 'shut your trap'.
He shut his trap, opening it only long enough for a terse, "Thank you."
"Don't thank me," Simkins slapped the folder in front of him closed. "I'd as soon see a traitor like you in the fields until crystal takes root in your eyes."
"I'll miss you, too," Gideon said. Finch gave him a less than gentle nudge of the elbow and Gideon added a belated, "Sir."
Simkins was unimpressed. "The transport departs at 2100 hours," the warden told him. "Dismissed."
* * *
Finch left Gideon at the entrance to his cell block with the suggestion to keep the parole quiet until it was time to move out. For a change, Gideon listened to the CO's advice, as some inmates tended not to look too kindly on short-timers.
He made a single exception, sharing the news with Doc when he went to reclaim Elvis from the physician’s care.
There was no question of the draco remaining behind. Fact was, even if Gideon were inclined to leave without his scaled companion (and he wasn't), Elvis would likely follow the transport to wherever it dropped Gideon back into society, and there proceed to give his chosen person nine kinds of hell for forgetting to bring him along in the first place.
"Odd, the board turning around your sentence, like that,” Doc now said, leaning inside the open door of Gideon's cell and watching the other man pack.
Not that Gideon was doing a lot of packing. At the moment, he was standing by his cot, staring at six names carved into the wall, a task that had taken countless slivers of rock and most of his first year in Morton to complete.
"You were in for, what?" Doc continued, prodding Gideon from his reverie. "Treason, wasn't it?"
Gideon’s head dipped in acknowledgment, but he didn’t look away from the list. “Among other things.”
"Very odd," Doc repeated his previous statement.
There followed a silence in which Gideon heard Doc not ask the question,
Did you do it?
, Gideon thought the answer but didn’t say so aloud because he’d made a deal, six years back. And even if the Corps were granting Gideon amnesty, the man he'd made the deal with would expect Gideon to keep to his end of the bargain.
He'd been branded a traitor, and a traitor he had to remain.
Besides, it wasn't as if Doc would believe him; Morton, like all prisons, overflowed with innocent souls, wrongly convicted.
So Gideon didn't answer the unasked question.
Instead he stood silently, his fingers brushing over the list. At the top was Lieutenant Eitan Fehr, the first to fall, followed by Estelle Carver, then Bertie Walsingham, Anya Duvagne, Nbo Mulowa and Juster Siska.
It was for these names Gideon had been court martialed.
There was a second list, as well — a second set of names known only to Gideon and one other man — and those names could never be written, never even spoken of, because they were the names of the soldiers who'd lived.
It was for these unwritten, unspoken names Gideon had confessed to a crime he hadn’t committed.
And there was yet a third list (confirming, Gideon supposed, the circus axiom that comedy works in threes). It wasn’t much of a list, containing as it did only two names, but those two names were as indelibly etched in the wall of Gideon’s psyche as the first six were in the brick of his cell. The only difference was, the owners of these two names deserved whatever suffering might be visited upon them.